Is It Lonely At The Top?
Not every club can afford a cadre of outside consultants for fresh perspectives, however, peers can help each other out in roundtable sessions and gain invaluable advise and foresight.
By: Dr. Gerry Faust
The Necessity of Outside Advice
Today it is nearly impossible for the head of any business, large or small, to succeed without the benefit of outside advice. While coping with day-to-day management and operations, any owner/manager must, from time to time, rely on the experience and expertise of others.
Large corporations are able to obtain this guidance in a myriad of ways. Some engage expensive consultants. Others hire full-time experts to deal with specific responsibilities. And, in many cases, many are able to obtain expert counsel from a Board of Directors.
These kinds of resources, however, are not usually available to the owners and managers of small companies. They cannot afford consultants who will come in and handle each new problem. Nor can they afford to regularly hire recognized experts in specialized areas. Where, then, can the owner/manager of these smaller companies find affordable counsel? Who can they turn to for management insights and advice?
One alternative that has gained wide spread acceptance, particularly among small to medium sized companies, is the Executive Roundtable. Several organizations now provide this service to CEOs around the world. Perhaps the largest of these organizations is The Executive Committee (TEC) that now has over 6,000 CEO participants worldwide. The Young President's Organization has its Forum groups and the Renaissance Executive Forum, with over 500 members, now franchises its roundtable approach throughout North America.
Some roundtables meet monthly, others less often. Some provide face-to-face sessions with the consultant/facilitator/chairperson of the group between sessions. Others do not. However, there are commonly four key ingredients to an effective roundtable:
- Working together on issues presented by individual members.
- An executive education component.
- A structured format.
- A group leader/facilitator.
Success in the Health Club Industry
Probably the most successful examples of this executive roundtable concept is in the club industry. Over 16 years ago Faust Management Corporation, an international consulting firm based out of San Diego, California, began what's known today as the Club Executive Roundtable program. The "Faust Roundtables" are record setters in terms of member retention, rave notices and results. The famous Roundtable #1, for example, has had an average annual retention of 95% and Roundtables 2, 3 and 4 are not far behind. The enthusiasm for and value placed on the club executive roundtable experience matches the record setting levels of retention rates of the roundtables.
What is a Club Executive Roundtable? It is 12-15 Club Owners and General Managers who meet three times a year for 1 1/2 - 2 days.
The group serves as an informal board of directors or advisors to one another and becomes a resource for:
- Developing solutions to business problems
- Sounding out and sharing new ideas and successes
- Support and understanding from people who work under the same pressures
The Key is Learning
The key to the Roundtable is learning. In a typical meeting experience, members will identify important issues, explain them, clarify for the group and then jointly brainstorm and suggest alternative solutions. At other times a major topic will be jointly requested and discussed - often from many different viewpoints - with several members offering new ideas, alternative ways of looking at things or simply a new way of dealing with an age-old problem.
The chairperson, a professional business consultant and facilitator, provides a structure for the sessions, teaches problem solving skills and presents insights and "mini seminars" at just the right moments during the sessions. The session is intense but rewarding. On some occasions guest speakers are used as resources, but in the Faust Roundtables regular executive education seminars are provided by the extremely experienced consultant/leaders.
Some other benefits of being a member of an Executive Roundtable are:
Trust - a trust is developed among members. Most of the groups have now been meeting together at least 3 times a year for more than a decade. Between times many talk frequently by telephone or via email. By doing this they have developed a sense of complete confidence in the group's collective integrity.
Understanding - each club owner/general manager is engaged in the same operation. As a result, when a question is raised about member service, attrition, sales compensation, there is an immediate understanding of the nature of the subject. When experiences are swapped members are usually able to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges and to easily implement the best ideas within their own organization.
Continuity - it's rare when members of the group do not find themselves in contact with one another to discuss business. Being a part of a Roundtable is like having a knowledgeable, dependable panel of consultants at their beck and call.
Dr. Gerry Faust, who personally leads 2 of the roundtables, says the industry focus of the Club Executive Roundtable adds considerable "extra power" to the process.
Regardless of the size of the club, chances are there are times when the "it's lonely at the top" feeling is experienced. That's why an informal advisory board, structured along the lines of the Club Executive Roundtable can be so valuable. Membership in such a group can provide the opportunity to confer in confidence with non-competing peers - peers who possess the same understanding of the day-to-day business of club operations.
About Gerry Faust